Twin Pines: no keys to the Okefenokee –Christian Hunt 2019-10-23

Excellent letter in the Charlton County Herald, October 23, 2019. You can send your own letter to the editor or comment to the Army Corps or GA-EPD.

Twin Pines should not be given the keys to the Okefenokee

Dear Editor,

Since announcing plans to strip mine along the Trail Ridge adjacent to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Twin Pines Minerals has held multiple hearings and meetings with political figures and the people of Charlton County to make their case and ostensibly calm fears about the miners environmental impact. Unfortunately, the company continues to display a lack of transparency and misrepresent both the nature and scale of the proposed mine, as well the costs of mining next to the swamp.

To truly understand what is at stake, here are the facts.

[Hunt]

First, Twin Pines has repeatedly claimed that operations will only occur in a small and isolated area. The company promised at the recent Folkston hearing that mining will be far removed from the swamp and will not take place across the larger property. According to multiple government agencies, however, Twin Pines has privately conceded that it plans to mine all 12,000-acres in roughly 1,000-acre phases over a 30-year period. This would place mining on the edge of the refuge and within a stone’s throw of the Okefenokee swamp itself.

At the same hearing, the company also dismissed the potential for impacts to imperiled species and inexplicably promised locals 300-400 jobs, which is twice the number specified in its permit application. Twin Pines further declared that it would somehow restore mined wetlands to an even healthier condition than their original state, even though the company, at just six years old, apparently has no real-world experience restoring wetlands of any kind on mined sands.

These promises were recently met with over 20,000 comments, most of which voiced concern with or opposition to the project. Following the closure of the public comment period, Twin Pines president Steve Ingle published a bizarre, full-page advertisement, in which he called mining opponents selfish hypocrites. He also suggested that, if mining were to harm the swamp, it would be the public’s responsibility to prove. Fortunately, that is simply not the way our country operates. Despite its protests, the burden of proof rests upon the shoulders of Twin Pines. The company must refute the findings of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and several independent experts, all of whom expect mining to potentially result in permanent, unacceptable, or irreversible damage to the swamp. That these predictions give Twin Pines no cause for concern is disappointing but ultimately of little surprise. Given their history, the Alabama-based company has shown it has little regard for either authority or environmental protections. After ignoring warnings from the state of Florida, for instance, Twin Pines was recently cited for failing to maintain silt fences and illegally dumping tailings into a wetland.

On an annual basis, 600,000 visitors travel to the refuge and generate upwards of $64 million in local economic output, which in turn supports over 700 local jobs. The wealth created by the swamp, however, is directly tied to its well-being. In recent surveys, 50% of visitors indicated they’d be less likely to return for future visits were the Okefenokee’s water quality to diminish.

As photos of Twin Pines’ actual, real-life operations confirm, damage of this nature is simply the cost of doing business with the mining industry.

Though I have spent many hours within the Okefenokee, I am not a local, and I dare not intend to tell the people of Charlton County how to feel. What I can say is that my organization, Defenders of Wildlife, is well-versed in the defense of our most cherished wild spaces. We have learned that certain corporations will say and do almost whatever it takes to gain the votes of local stakeholders, whether it be through finger-pointing, outright misrepresentations, or inflated financial promises. In such cases, history shows that communities should proceed at their own risk. Once the keys to the resources are handed over, promises tend to go unfulfilled, as do assurances of environmental stewardship. Based on its track record, Twin Pines unfortunately appears to fit this profile.

In the coming months, I hope the people of Charlton County take account of the facts, critically examine the representations made by Twin Pines, and ultimately come to reach the same conclusion. The long-term vibrancy of our country’s greatest wetland, the Okefenokee Swamp, depends on it.

Christian Hunt is the Southeast Program Associate for Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation organization focused solely on wildlife and habitat conservation and the safeguarding of biodiversity.

— Christian Hunt, Southeast Program Associate for Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation organization focused solely on wildlife and habitat conservation and the safeguarding of biodiversity.

Email editor@charltonherald.com
to submit a letter to the editor!

Thanks to Christian Hunt for sending an image of the letter.

You can send your own letter to: editor@charltonherald.com

All about that proposed TPM titanium mine next to the Okefenokee Swamp:
wwals.net/issues/titanium-mining/

How to Comment

The comment deadline was May 28, 2020, according to SAS-2018-00554 Twin Pines Minerals, Published April 13, 2020, Expiration date: 5/28/2020.

“The Savannah District will hold a virtual Public Meeting for the Twin Pines project on May 13, 2020 from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM EDT. The meeting will consist of a formal presentation followed by a question and answer session. The meeting will be recorded and published to the Savannah District public website. To allow time for the public to submit questions and RSVP to the public meeting, as well as comment on any information presented at the meeting, additional public comments will be accepted and the original public notice will remain open until May 28, 2020, 15 days after the virtual public meeting.”

However, you can write to your elected officials. And the Corps apparently actually continues to read comments after the deadline, right up until they make a decision. While you are at home because of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), you have a great opportunity to write a comment, and to You can also post your comments on social media, as op-eds, etc.

You can ask the Corps and other elected and appointed officials to deny the application, or to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to consider wider areas the mine may affect, especially the entire Okefenokee Swamp, the Suwannee and St Marys Rivers, and the rest of Trail Ridge in Georgia. You can ask for the EIS to include other mines relevant to this one, especially the four Chemours titanium strip mines in north Florida for which TPM, along with Chemours, is under a Florida Consent Order for a range of violations. You may want to ask for inclusion of the existing phosphate mine in Hamilton County, Florida, next to the Suwannee River, as well as the one proposed in Union and Bradford Counties, Florida, next to the New and Santa Fe Rivers, tributaries of the Suwannee. All those mines affect the Floridan Aquifer, which is the main source of water for drinking, agriculture, and industry for everyone in south Georgia and north Florida.

To comment, or to request a public hearing, you can write to
Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District,
Attention: Ms. Holly Ross, 1104 North Westover Boulevard, Suite 9, Albany, Georgia, 31707,
or by email to CESAS-SpecialProjects@usace.army.mil or holly.a.ross@usace.army.mil.
In your comments please refer to:
Applicant: Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, Application Number: SAS-2018-00554.

For the requested state permit regarding Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, you can send a comment or request for public hearing to
Stephen Wiedl, Wetlands Unit, stephen.wiedl@dnr.ga.gov
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division, Water Protection Branch, 7 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.

For the Georgia Coastal Management Program certification, you can send a comment to
Federal Consistency Coordinator, Ecological Services Section, Coastal Resources Division,
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, One Conservation Way, Brunswick, Georgia 31523-9600
Telephone 912-264-7218.

The public announcement says: “The applicant may also require assent from the State of Georgia, which may be in the form of a license, easement, lease, permit, or other appropriate instrument.”

You can write to your Georgia state representative or senator or governor or lieutenant governor and ask them to refuse any such instrument.
To find your legislator you can type in your ZIP code here: http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/

You can also write to your U.S. Representative or Senator and ask them to urge the Corps to reject this mine or at least require an EIS, like Rep. Al Lawson (FL-05) already did.

You can also write to the Georgia DNR board, asking them to refuse any such instrument.
Georgia Board of Natural Resources
2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, SE, Suite 1252, Atlanta, GA 30334

You can write to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking them to ask the state of Florida to comment.

To: Mary S. Walker, Regional Administrator, walker.mary@epa.gov
Jeaneanne Gettle, Director, Water Division, gettle.jeaneanne@epa.gov
Blake Ashbee, Chief of Staff, ashbee.blake@epa.gov,
Carol Kemker, Director, Enforcement & Compliance Assurance Division, kemker.carol@epa.gov
Region 4, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Cc: Gregory J. Strong, Director, Northeast Division, Greg.Strong@dep.state.fl.us
Noah Valenstein, Director, Noah.Valenstein@dep.state.fl.us
Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP)
 
Col. Daniel Hibner, Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,Savannah District
Attention: Ms. Holly Ross, holly.a.ross@usace.army.mil,
CESAS-SpecialProjects@usace.army.mil
1104 North Westover Boulevard, Suite 9, Albany, Georgia 31707
 
Stephen Wiedl, Wetlands Unit, stephen.wiedl@dnr.ga.gov
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division,
Water Protection Branch, 7 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA 30334

Re: Applicant: Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, Application Number: SAS-2018-00554

Dear Administrator Walker and Director Gettle,

Here is the pithy request sent by Waterkeepers Florida:

We request EPA to determine, according to 33 CFR § 325.2(b), whether the mining activities of the applicant may affect the quality of the waters of the state of Florida and to notify the state of Florida, the district engineer, and the applicant that Florida therefore “has 60 days from receipt of EPA's notice to determine if the proposed discharge will affect the quality of its waters so as to violate any water quality requirement in such state, to notify EPA and the district engineer in writing of its objection to permit issuance, and to request a public hearing.”

To submit a letter to the editor of the Charlton County Herald, you can email editor@charltonherald.com.
Or write to your local newspaper.
You can also contact radio, TV, and of course post on social media.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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